Empower Her World: Creative Women Of The World Celebrates Fashion, Female Empowerment

By Kayleen Reusser The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A nonprofit organization called "Creative Women of the World" (CWOW) works directly with women in 11 countries, including Kenya, Honduras and Indonesia, helping them create sustainable businesses. CWOW founder and executive director Lorelei VerLee has hundreds of items for sale at her Indiana store, including chocolates, jewelry, clothing and home décor, representing artisans from 48 countries on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.)

Twice a year, Lorelei VerLee ventures from the comforts of her Fort Wayne home to travel internationally for business.

During her visits, she may encounter people with bug bites on their bodies, homes with mud floors and governments where extortion and bribery are accepted as the norm.

The difference between VerLee and the average corporate executive is VerLee travels on behalf of women living in extreme poverty, human trafficking and tragic disaster. The purpose of her excursions is to offer women hope in escaping their impoverished conditions through artistic expression and experienced business advice.

"Many women around the world are talented in arts and crafting but have limited access to business training and broader distribution to larger markets," she said. "My goal by meeting with them in their native countries is to offer through local liaisons who speak English and have internet access, training for women who want to sustain their own artistic businesses and improve their lives."

VerLee is founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization called Creative Women of the World (CWOW), which is hosting a fundraiser Tuesday night. Empower Her World: A Celebration of Fashion will feature a fashion show of artisan clothes, jewelry and bags made by CWOW-trained female entrepreneurs from around the world.

VerLee is a lifelong artisan and business owner whose husband, Ron VerLee, is the retired pastor of St. Joseph's United Methodist Church.

In July 2011 Lorelei VerLee and others concerned about human trafficking and other causes in which women feel enslaved organized CWOW. By September 2012, a retail store of the same name had opened downtown next to J.K. O'Donnell's Restaurant.

Currently, the store has hundreds of items for sale, including chocolates, jewelry, clothing and home décor, representing artisans from 48 countries on every continent except Australia and Antarctica.

CWOW works directly with women in 11 countries, including Kenya, Honduras and Indonesia, helping them create sustainable businesses.

VerLee travels twice a year to various countries represented by artisans in the shop. Recently, she hosted a small group of women from Kenya and plans to return to that country in October for a follow-up visit to offer further assistance to the female business owners. News within the continent of Africa about CWOW has spread. An invitation to work with a group in Malawi has VerLee visiting that country in November to train women in Lilongwe and Zomba.

Tonight's event will focus on Indonesia, with an artisan arriving from that country to feature her craft. Warisatul Hasanah, a business owner who has completed the CWOW training, will meet guests at Empower Her World (EHW) and display her scented batik scarves, which will be available for purchase.

Flavor N Focus owners Jennifer Disler and Rob Borel of Fort Wayne will provide samples of Indonesian cuisine, including traditional dishes: a golden rice mountain surrounded with Satays, curries, twice cooked spiced duck, sambals, pickles, spicy eggs, gado gado (mixed vegetables with peanut/coconut dressing), Indonesian condiments, Thousand layer cake and Indonesian cheesecake.

Calhoun Street Soups, Salads, and Spirits will have a cash bar.

Attendees can register for upcoming trips with CWOW to observe the mechanics of helping women start businesses.

Lisa Weinberger of Naperville, Illinois, will speak at the fundraiser. Weinberger, a representative of the Footprints Foundation in the Chicago area, co-founded Moda Esperanza in Comayagua, Honduras, in 2008.

Despite Honduras being considered by many to be a dangerous Latin American country with kidnappings, robberies, and political corruption, Weinberger and VerLee have combined forces to teach business skills to artisans, mostly single mothers. Weinberger will share the effects of CWOW training on the women she has worked with.

"These women don't receive food stamps or subsidies from their government to help them raise their families," she said.

"Through curriculum developed by CWOW to teach them successful business practices, we've seen women living in homes without electricity find money for a refrigerator. Children see mothers working for a living, which raises the bar of a standard of living for them. We may not be able to solve the problems of the world. But through CWOW we can solve them one person and family and community at a time."

Local author and artist Bonnie Manning will talk about LOTUS (Local Opportunities for Training in the US), another CWOW program that gives local artists a way to positively affect the lives of other artists by selling their own art. The evening's events also include a silent and live auction and a market of other boutique merchandise that can be purchased onsite.

All proceeds from the Empower Her World event will be designated to expand CWOW's training programs.

"This type of volunteer effort with CWOW is what we're supposed to be doing with our lives," said Weinberger. "Once you see the faces of these women who live in desperation and poverty, you can't pass up the opportunity to help."

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